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Maternity rights

Pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks Statutory Maternity Leave if they give the correct notice to the employer. Employees don't have to take 52 weeks if they don't want to. However, the first 2 weeks following the birth must be taken or 4 weeks for those who work in a factory.

What is maternity leave?

Pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is known as ordinary maternity leave, and the second 26 weeks as additional maternity leave.

While there is no minimum length of service required to take maternity leave, a pregnant employee must tell their employer at least 15 weeks before the baby is due:  

  • that they are pregnant
  • when the expected week of childbirth is (an employer can request a medical certificate that confirms this)
  • the date they intend to start maternity leave. This can normally be any date which is no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the baby is due. Also, see the section, Premature and sick babies.

The employee must give this notification in writing if their employer requests it.

If the employee wants to change the start date of their maternity leave, they must give the employer 28 days notice, or mutually agree a new date.

After receiving confirmation that the employee is pregnant, an employer must write to them within 28 days setting out her return date. The employer at this point should assume the employee is going to take 52 weeks' leave.

If, in the four weeks before baby is due, the employee is off work with a pregnancy-related illness, maternity leave automatically begins on the following day.

Premature or sick babies

If the baby arrives early, maternity leave will automatically start on the day after the birth.

If the baby is stillborn after the twenty fourth week of pregnancy or if the baby is born alive at any point (even if the baby later passes away) the employee is entitled to full maternity rights.

When a baby is born prematurely or with health needs an employee may not want to be thinking about work. An employer should offer appropriate Workplace support for parents with premature or sick babies in these circumstances.

Receiving maternity pay

A pregnant worker will usually be entitled to either:

  • statutory maternity pay
  • contractual maternity pay
  • maternity allowance.

Statutory maternity pay

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) will be payable if a worker has been:

  • working continuously for one company for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • has an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.

SMP is payable for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90 percent of the average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the SMP rate or 90 per cent of the average weekly earnings whichever is the lower.

Since April 2018 the rate for SMP has been £145.18 per week. The amount is reviewed every April.

For more information on qualification for SMP, go to GOV.UK - Maternity, Adoption and paternity calculator for employers.

Contractual maternity pay

Some employers may offer contractual maternity pay that is more than the statutory rate. The amount and how long it is available for is dependent upon the contract of employment. For example, 26 weeks of full pay followed by 13 weeks of SMP. Contractual maternity pay cannot be less than statutory maternity pay.

If an employer offers contractual maternity pay there may be a provision in the contract for repaying some or all of the enhanced maternity pay if an employee does not return to work. This should be clearly set out in writing in the terms and conditions of employment. An employee should not have to repay any money that would amount to statutory maternity pay they receive.

Maternity Allowance

If a pregnant mother does not qualify for statutory or contractual maternity pay, they may be entitled to Maternity Allowance. This is paid by Jobcentre Plus for up to 39 weeks. To qualify, they must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. A claim can be made for maternity allowance once the mother has reached 26 weeks of pregnancy, although payments cannot begin until 11 weeks before the baby is due.

Generally, to qualify for Maternity Allowance a pregnant mother, in the 66 weeks before the baby is due must have:

  • been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks (these need not be consecutive weeks)
  • earned at least £30 a week, on average, over any 13 of those 26 weeks.

The rate at which Maternity Allowance is paid is dependent on whether the mother has made National Insurance contributions in the 13 weeks they have relied on for qualification.

There may be other circumstances in which an amount of maternity allowance can be claimed. For more information on the wider range of options for claiming Maternity Allowance and benefits as a new parent visit GOV.UK - Maternity Allowance.

Attending antenatal appointments

All pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable time off with pay for antenatal appointments made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner. This may include relaxation classes and parent-craft classes. After the first appointment, an employer may ask an employee to provide an appointment card or other documents that show an appointment has been made.

An expectant father or partner of a pregnant woman has the right to take time off work to go to two antenatal appointments. This time off is usually unpaid and is limited to six and a half hours per appointment.

For more information, go to our page on Time off for antenatal appointments.

Health and safety considerations while pregnant

An employer must consider any specific workplace risks in its general risk assessment for an employee who:

Is of childbearing age, or

  • is pregnant
  • has given birth in the last six months
  • is breastfeeding.

Risks could include for example:

  • heavy lifting or carrying
  • long working hours
  • standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks
  • exposure to toxic substances.

An employer told in writing of an employee's pregnancy should then have regular health and safety discussions with the employee, taking into account any advice they have received from their doctor or midwife. If any risks identified cannot be reduced or removed the employer must:

  • temporarily adjust working conditions and/or working hours and if that is not possible
  • offer suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay and on terms no less favourable than the original role).

If neither of these options are possible, an employer must suspend the employee from work on paid leave until their maternity leave begins or it is safe for them to attend work. The employee must be provided with the outcome of the risk assessment and the reason why the risk could not be removed.   

For more information about the protection of new and expectant mothers who work, go to HSE - New and expectant mothers.

Pregnancy-related illness

If an employee is unable to attend work due to a pregnancy-related illness, they should report in sick in the usual way. An employer should record these absences, but keep them separate to any other sickness absences. Pregnancy-related absence must not count towards any review points or trigger points an employer may have in its absence policy.

There is no automatic right to be paid in full for a pregnancy-related absence. An employee should be paid whatever they would usually be paid if they were absent from work due to sickness.

Agency workers' Rights

When a pregnant agency worker has completed a 12-week qualifying period within the same job, they will be entitled to paid time off for antenatal care, as explained earlier in the Attending antenatal appointments section .

Agency workers do not qualify for maternity leave, but they must still take at least two weeks off work after having a baby (four weeks if working in a factory). Agency workers can choose when to make themselves available for work so may choose to make themselves unavailable for a period of time before and after the baby is born.

They may qualify for maternity pay if they meet the qualifying criteria.

For further information please see our guidance on parental Rights while working as an agency worker.

Employment rights during maternity leave

During maternity leave, the employee is entitled to benefit from all their usual terms and conditions of employment, except for remuneration (monetary wages or salary), although they may be entitled to receive maternity pay.

An employee on maternity leave should be kept up to date with anything that is happening within the workplace. This should usually include, but is not limited to:

  • promotion opportunities
  • changes at work
  • social events.

How the employee is kept up to date should be agreed between the employee and employer before the maternity leave begins.

KIT - Keeping in touch days

An employee and an employer can agree to up to ten KIT days (keeping in touch days) throughout the period of maternity leave. These are optional days which can be worked in order for the employee to remain in contact with their workplace.

The type of work done and the payment for this work should be agreed between the employer and employee beforehand.

If an employee works only part of a day this would still count as one of their ten keeping in touch days. For example, it is not possible to split the amount to create twenty half days.

If an employee works more than ten keeping in touch days then their maternity leave and pay will automatically come to an end.

There is no obligation on an employer to offer KIT days or for an employee to agree to them.

KIT days could be used in situations where it would be beneficial for the employee to attend a work-related activity. For example a training session or a team meeting. Alternatively KIT days could be used to work part of a week, which could help the employee return to their role in a gradual way.

Annual leave

An employee continues to accrue all of their paid annual leave (including bank holidays where applicable) while on maternity leave. An employer must ensure that an employee is able to take all of their annual leave at some point.

An employer and employee could agree that annual leave can be taken before the maternity leave starts or after it comes to an end. It is important to note that annual leave cannot be taken at the same time as maternity leave.

Redundancy

If a redundancy situation arises, the employee on maternity leave must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy if one is available. If there is no suitable alternative work, the employee can be made redundant.

However, it is essential that:

  • the pregnancy or maternity is not a reason for redundancy
  • the redundancy is genuine
  • redundancy procedures have been followed fairly
  • redeployment has been considered.

If a redundancy situation arises an employee on maternity leave must be consulted along with all other staff. An employer must ensure that the person is not put at a disadvantage for being pregnant or on maternity leave.

If an employee on maternity leave is selected for redundancy, the employer should then consider whether it has any suitable alternative vacancies and, if it does, these should be offered to the person on maternity leave before any other employee.

Please see Acas Guidance pdf icon Pregnancy and maternity: key points for the workplace [511kb] for further information.

Returning to work after maternity leave

At the end of maternity leave, the employee will usually return to their original job but there are some factors to take into account.

If an employee takes maternity leave for six months or less, they have the right to return to their job on the same terms and conditions as before they left, if the job still exists and depending on how their employment contract defines 'the job'.

If an employee takes maternity leave for more than six months, they still have the right to return to their old job - however, if it is not reasonably practicable to do so, they can be offered a similar job where terms and conditions must be as good.

If an employee wants to return to work before taking their full maternity entitlement, they should inform their employer of their intentions at least eight weeks before the date they intend to return. Employers should consider this when employing someone on a Fixed Term Work contract to cover a period of maternity

If an employee wants to amend their hours or duties on their return from maternity leave, they have the right to make a flexible working request. For more information, go to our page on Flexible Working Requests.

Unfair treatment due to being pregnant or taking maternity leave

An employee has the right not to be treated unfavourably because they are either pregnant or on maternity leave.

To understand what 'unfavourable treatment' means, see pdf icon Pregnancy and maternity: key points for the workplace [511kb].

If an employee feels they are being treated unfavourably, they should first consider raising the issue informally. Some issues can be resolved quickly through a conversation with a line manager or other appropriate person within the business.

If an informal approach does not work an employee has the option of raising a formal complaint (also known as a grievance). This should be done in writing and can make the employer aware of how strongly the employee feels about the situation, while also giving the employer the opportunity to resolve it.

As a last resort the employee could consider making a complaint to an employment tribunal. There is generally a three-month time limit for bringing a claim to a tribunal. However, this time limit can pause if Early Conciliation is taking place. For more information, go to Employment Tribunals.

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